Zimbabwe: PWDs Bemoan Communication Barriers On Accessing SRH Services

26 October 2020

People with disabilities (PWD) have bemoaned challenges they are encountering on accessing Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services in the country.

Director of Deaf Women Included (DWI) Agness Chindimba said the failure to assign sign language interpreters by most health institutions has qualified language barrier as a chief impediment to access to health.

"Communication barriers at barriers clinics continue to inhibit access to better health care to people with disabilities as very few steps are being done to address this issue. As DWI, we translated the constitution recently as we saw that access to information was being inhibited,"

"Some people ask stupid questions for example if they see a person with disabilities pregnant, they ask if they had sex when it's obvious. It's not the Holy Spirit. People tend to see the disability before reflecting that we are also human beings," she said.

Chindimba urged the government to train health workers on sign language or at least have a translator in all health institutions.

"At one time, an adolescent from my neighbourhood came to me telling me that people with disabilities have cancer and might die soon. I had to ask why and she said because we bleed from our private parts every now and then. I had to explain to her that its normal and it's a process every woman experiences. I could not believe that at her age no one had told her about the menstruation cycle," she added.

"So u can imagine if this is happening in urban areas, what more in rural setups where they don't have access to information and privileges."

According to ZIMSTAT Intercensal Demographic (2017) people with disabilities make up an estimated 9% of the population which represents more than 1.2 million.

Onai Harai of Deaf Women Included who has been working with deaf women and girls in rural areas said being deaf puts then in a vulnerable position.

"It's even difficult for them to negotiate for sex hence most of them end up being victims of gender-based violence.

"I have been working with women and girls from rural areas and it becomes most of them do not learn standard sign language, they develop their own sign language hence making it even harder to communicate. In those cases, we use relay interpretation," she said.

Harai suggested that condoms should have braille so that people who are visually impaired can read instructions without asking for anyone to read for them and be able to pick a flavour they want as they also deserve privacy.

"Imagine how people will laugh if a blind person walks in a shop and asks for condoms and also asks for instructions to be read out loud. It's not fair," she added.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights conventions guarantee the fundamental human rights to physical, social, and psychological health.

Specifically, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees persons with disabilities the right to access "the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care and programs as provided to other persons, including those in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programs. "

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